A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Saturday, May 07, 2005

May 7.

Gobo Entrance and New England Rolls

Fries and Green Tea Noodle

Risotto and Napoleon

Dinner -

Gobo - 401 6th Avenue, West Village

New England Rolls in a Tangy Dressing; White Bean, Root Vegetable and Pumpkin Soup; Yam & Yucca Fries; Green Tea Noodle with Vegan Bolognese Sauce; Butternut Squash Risotto with Toasted Almonds; Hazelnut Napoleon topped with Raspberry Sauce, 2 oz. shot of Wheat Grass

Because my cousin is a vegan, I’ve had my share of seitan. I’ve had more raw desserts, tofu burgers, organic sangrias and soy shakes than the whole state of Alabama. And yet in my experience, the range of rabbit food is minimal: good to pretty good. I’ve still never been floored by tofurkey. I’ve never fantasized about mixed greens.

I was hoping that my visit to Gobo might change that. Described as “99.99 percent” vegan, the West Village location is one of the more upscale restaurants filling this niche. The décor is an exercise in feng shui, elegant and understated, and the menu is ambitious and varied. The chefs David and Darren Wu, whose parents own the similar-minded Zen Palate, lace Asian influences throughout the courses, another way they separate themselves from the pack.

Vince and I went to Gobo with high hopes and for parts of the meal, they were met. Our waitress, for example, was helpful and knowledgeable, answering all of our questions with confidence. She steered us away from the White Bean and Cremini Mushroom Casserole, which she didn’t like, in favor of the New England rolls and recommended the white bean, root vegetable and pumpkin soup over the spinach wonton soup.

The New England rolls, filled with tasty enoki and wood ear mushroom, were certainly a winning call. With a crunchy red skin, these five wrap-like appetizers packed a lot of flavor and style into small packages. Also good though less outstanding (and aesthetically pleasing) was the hearty puke-brown soup. It had a pleasant if not particularly special taste, mostly distinguishing itself with the giant white beans wading through the bowl.

Before we proceeded to the mains, Vince and I decided to take a few more detours. First were the yam and yucca fries, a novel approach to a tired side and a delicious one at that. Because of their root vegetable bases, these fries had a thicker texture and meatier taste. Paired with a sweet and sour sauce, they only became more interesting. Also interesting though admittedly more masochistic was my first taste of wheatgrass. Sweeter than I’d expected, it still tasted like someone had liquefied the contents of a lawnmower. Next time, I may just stick with one of Gobo’s delectable-looking shakes.

Our entrees arrived soon afterward. One, the Green Tea Noodle, ended up being the best thing we tried, whereas the other, the Squash Risotto, was the worst. The camouflage-green noodles were especially good because of their spicy and rich Bolognese sauce. If the menu hadn’t specified that this sauce was vegan, I wouldn’t have been able to tell. The dish also incorporated a welcome fusion between Asian and Italian traditions.

On the other hand, the risotto, which sounded promising, was botched by the kitchen. It was supposed to come topped with almonds (Vince noticed this when all the other diners had almonds on their orders) and it really could’ve used them. Without the nuts, the fact that the risotto was overcooked and as mushy as oatmeal was all the more apparent. Even the squash could’ve been more al dente. I also wondered if the soy substitutes in the recipe limited the risotto's taste.

Finally, for dessert, I chose the Hazelnut Napoleon, curious to see how this dessert could be adapted for vegans. Again, it revealed the shortcomings of soy. Everything from the raspberry sauce to the hazelnuts was delicious, but when it came to the creamy hazelnut filling, the napoleon stalled. For anyone familiar with the transcendence of true cream, alternatives and stand-ins just won’t do.

Thus, I walked away impressed though not entirely won over. I’m sure it’d be possible to construct a meal at Gobo that could convert me into a full-time herbivore. Some of the things we tried, especially the Green Tea Noodle, had me well on my way. But it would take more exploration of the menu and probably eliminating more losers to finally get me fantasizing about flora. 7/10

A review by the Amateur Gourmet from 2004


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